If you’re a local writer who leans toward the conservative side of the political aisle on any topic, chances are you feel a bit like the odd person out. Boulder’s overwhelmingly liberal demographic, or at the very least its reputation for having one, can make you feel like the proverbial voice crying in the wilderness.
Thank goodness you’ve got a megaphone, right? You’re a writer, maybe you blog too, your aim is print publication, you’ve got an audience. You can try to balance the debate, inject some badly needed nuance.
Except Boulder’s corner of the political conversation is no reliable metric for judging the national Overton window. The Washington Post, the New York Times, Fox News, they don’t take their cues from the “People’s Republic” when they take a stance. Their message could indeed stand some nuance, but not because they’re too simplistically liberal, environmental or feminist. Quite the opposite.
The political conversation at large matters. It affects popular thought, and that in turn affects how people react to situations. Change enough minds, and you can change the world — and not necessarily for the better. You know this. Why else would you be so keen on having your say? You don’t want to cause damage; you want to make things better. But between goals and results is a non-trivial gulf. Even with the best of intentions, you can still wind up throwing support behind harmful rhetoric.
It’s important to familiarize yourself with the debate at large. It’s important to recognize what the wide-spread beliefs are, and what actions those beliefs prompt. And when you jump into the debate, it’s important to understand what side of the debate your contribution will support regardless of whether you intend to support it.
For example: In Boulder’s political arena, human-influenced global climate change seems to be taken as a given. At the Boulder Public Library, between the Canyon Gallery and the Bridge, Elizabeth Black’s posters illustrate “climate-wise gardening.” Little Bunny weeps to think of Colorado’s state flower failing to thrive here thanks to northward-shifting hardiness zones. Climate Wise-Guy points out that if Boulder will soon be too hot for columbines, by the same token it’ll be warm enough for the Zone 6 plants we couldn’t grow here a decade ago.
So the municipal powers-that-be are pushing acceptance of climate change theory (via the public library) and local businesses are throwing their weight behind it (McGuckin Hardware has contributed to the exhibit). You can’t help but feel a bit alienated, a bit less welcomed in your own home town, because you have a dissenting stance. Maybe you think we’re not getting the whole picture about climate change. Maybe your skeptical of the global models that scientists use to analyze and predict changes. Maybe you agree that change is happening (the shifting hardiness zones and bird migration patterns are hard to argue with), but you think blaming it on human industry is a conclusion too far. Maybe you suspect a left-leaning regulationist lobby trying to muscle into U.S. legislation via the Environmental Protection Agency is twisting the actual data to suit their purposes. Maybe you just think more info and less blind faith in NASA scientists is needed.
But here’s the thing. Outside Boulder, climate-change denial is mainstream. Far from blind faith in scientists, the national conversation seems to trend toward reflex distrust of scientists and scientific inquiry. A superficial analysis of the last decade’s electoral campaigns reveals a substantial anti-intellectual bias; political candidates who used scientific fact to support their positions were dubbed “too intellectual” or “elitist,” scaring off people who’d rather vote for someone they could see themselves sharing a beer with. Dollar for dollar, the most powerful lobbying bodies are those fighting to relax EPA regulation so that industrial businesses can get away with more, not less, carbon emissions. And government regulation for any reason is seen as inherently evil, almost as a point of faith, by the news-making “Tea Party” movement and by many people identifying as Libertarians or small-government Republicans.
Which side of the argument does your reasonable plea for nuance and skepticism play into? “Look,” says a hypothetical reader, “even in environmentally mad Boulder, home of NCAR for goodness’s sake, they’re skeptical of this climate change nonsense.” Which way does that reader vote? What letters do they write to their congressional representatives? What opinion trend might you be supporting, and what real-world harm is that trend doing?
I’m going to stop here because this is a pretty long post already. Unfortunately, this isn’t a good place to stop. Trying to create a link between your blog or that short story that’s still accumulating rejection letters with the potential to sway opinion, voting tendencies and political support can seem like a real stretch. And if your hypothetical reader is swayed by your reasonable skepticism to, say, forgo buying into Xcel Energy’s “Windsource” program (and more subscribers might not help anyway, as the program’s ability to provide wind power is maxed out) or to vote against stricter emissions testing, well, that’s just one person, right?
Tomorrow’s example will show how that one hypothetical reader can do a lot more damage — emotionally, socially and physically — in an extremely direct manner. It’ll be a tough post. For one out of every six women and one out of every 33 men, it will touch terribly close to home.
I’ll be talking about rape, and rape culture, and how as writers we can find ourselves contributing to the problem even when we think we’re working toward solutions.
It’ll be difficult. I hope you’ll be able to join me for the discussion. I do not at all take for granted that you will. There’s a reason why some internet communities use the phrase “trigger warning,” after all.
So. Trigger warning for tomorrow’s post, as specified above. Then on Friday, Boulder Writing Examiner will return to its weekly tradition of Friday Market Alerts.